Writing and Publishing

People ask me about getting published. Usually they are asking for themselves, but sometimes they’re asking for a friend or family member — somebody who’s written a memoir or a family history. The stories are always worth telling. Friends who braved war zones to help children, a grandparent’s diary of farm life in early 20th Century Minnesota, a father’s battle with and victory over cancer. Other times it’s a novel or a collection of stories. It’s commendable to have written something personal and meaningful, courageous to share it with others, and touching that a loved one wants to validate that work by seeing it into print.

I want to make one thing clear — that work is already valid. Nobody needs to put a publishing logo on the manuscript to make it worthwhile. Our stories are important, they should be kept safe and passed from generation to generation. I won’t deny there’s an extrinsic motivation to a book contract or a feeling of accomplishment to see your book on an end-cap display at Barnes & Noble, but that isn’t what gives the writing value. The writing has value because somebody took the time to do it and left a little bit of themselves on the pages.

Great, you say, but what about getting published?

Before you dive in, you do need to understand that publishing (traditional publishing, as opposed to self-subsidized publishing and e-publishing) is an enterprise — that is “a purposeful or industrious undertaking (especially one that requires effort or boldness).” It’s not something you casually enter, as a side project, done mostly for bragging rights. It’s a job, and a demanding one. I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking up the pursuit of publishing, but from querying agents to making revisions to promoting your books, you just need to know what you’re volunteering (or volunteering your loved one) for: at best, a part time job with a lot of investment without promise of monetary reward and a lot of associated anxiety.

There are books out there you can read that explain the process, professional associations for most genres, classes you can take, and conferences you can attend that will get you started on understanding this enterprise, and I encourage you to do so. I also encourage you to start by reading (and buying) a lot of books in the same vein as the one you want to publish. You should become a full participant in the enterprise, conversant in recent titles and knowledgable about the field. If you’re really interested in getting published, you should be the audience you are publishing for.

If that sounds daunting, and you don’t want to do it, don’t. Publishing isn’t for everyone and despite folk heroes like Amanda Hocking, it’s not usually that profitable.

But do keep writing. That’s the important part.

3 thoughts on “Writing and Publishing

  1. Excellent post, Kurtis. I have people ask me these questions all the time and I know I disappoint many of them when I tell them that you can’t go into it for the money. The money, for the most part, isn’t there. They are surprised, too, that it takes so long to get a book through the revision stage(s). Unless you’re a famous author, it’s going to take more than a few months to have a book in hand after you think you’re “done” with it. I’ve had so many people say this to me: “when I get some time I’m going to write a book, too.” Writers write. They accept that it’s work and they make time. They do it without being asked and without being paid. I think, in some ways, it’s as much a need as a desire.

    Family memoirs and cookbooks and stories, however, are wonderful ways to put personal writing to good use to pass down to the next generation.

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